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February 02, 2012

Ask Travelin' Joe: Naples and Riviera Maya, plus TPC Scottsdale's underrated holes

Posted at 2:16 PM by Joe Passov | Categories: Arizona, Ask Travelin' Joe, Mexico

July11_corkscrew_600x416_1Hi Joe,
We’re heading to Naples, Fla., this winter with four golfers. Can you recommend some good quality courses in the Naples area that won’t break the bank?
Jeff Gilman
Lancaster, N.H.

Between Naples and Cabo, I get asked this question a lot. My response is the same as when someone asks me to help them move furniture: It’s possible, but highly improbable.

Naples and Florida’s southwest coast simply don’t ooze bargains. The inexpensive courses are mostly mediocre, the public-access trophy courses are only for people with expense accounts, and the rest in the region have locked gates.

Still, there’s hope.

Start with Old Corkscrew ($100-$169; 239-949-4700, oldcorkscrew.com) in Estero, a half-hour north of Naples. This strong Jack Nicklaus creation offers challenge, variety and superb conditioning. Yes, the rack rate is formidable, but if you can wait until 1:40 p.m. to play, it’s $100, and better still there are a variety of discount services that will help lower the cost.

The region’s best deal is River Hall Country Club ($75-$85; 239-313-4653, hamptongolfclubs.com), in Alva, a 2007 Davis Love III design that rolls out a 7,200-yard layout that emphasizes strategy. Intriguing bunkering and a set of huge, quick greens add to the fun.

A final value is Eastwood Golf Course ($45-$60; 239-321-7487, cityftmyers.com/eastwood) in Ft. Myers. This 1968 Devlin/von Hagge design is a muni that doesn’t sound like much on paper, tipping out at just 6,772 yards, but a kennel full of doglegs, 87 bunkers and water on 11 holes make this a true test of course management.

Hey Joe,
I’m heading down to Riviera Maya for a week getaway with my wife. Any suggestions on decent and affordable courses in that area? I’ve been to Cancun many times but never to Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
Tom Watchko
Philadelphia

OK, make that Cabo, Naples—and the Riviera Maya—as terrific golf destinations that are seldom mentioned in the same sentence with “affordability.”

Nearly every course in the region commands $150-$275 price tags for non-twilight times. I still say that the El Camaleon at Mayakoba Resort ($133-$283; 011-52-984-206-3088, fairmont.com/mayakoba) is worth the extra pesos, thanks to a truly distinctive Greg Norman design that features two par 3s that melt into the beach edging the Caribbean Sea, plus other holes criss-crossed by limestone canals and a unique par-5 opener that sports a cenote (underwater cave) smack in the middle of the fairway.

Wallet watchers and/or those pressed for time should drive a little further south for Riviera Maya’s nine-hole par-3 course ($65; 011-52-984-875-5048,rivieramaya-golfclub.com), a Robert Trent Jones II effort that pairs with a championship 27-holer (18 currently open) on site. Lagoons, jungle-like surrounds and a variety of hole lengths are highlights.

Three underrated holes at the TPC Scottsdale
The wild 16th hole at the TPC Scottsdale’s aptly named Stadium course is one of the most famous par 3s—but it’s not even the best par 3 on the back nine. While the island-green par-5 15th, amphitheater par-3 16th and drivable par-4 17th deservedly grab all the glory, here are my picks for three wonderful, but overlooked, back-nine holes that Waste Management Phoenix Open competitors will face this week.

11th hole, 469 yards, par 4
I’ve got to admit that I’m an ever-increasing fan of holes that terrorize with water, though without demanding a forced carry. A huge lake lines the left side of the fairway and the length of the hole mandates driver off the tee.

However, follow through too aggressively on the drive or approach and you’ll hook into the drink. Mid-handicappers will tend to bail right, but that’s where trees and desert scrub await. Billy Mayfair claims that the approach is “probably a 6- to 8-iron into a really thin, very well-guarded green.” It’s usually a 3-wood for me and bogey isn’t a bad score.

12th hole, 195 yards, par 3
The same situation we encountered at 11 is back at 12: Water lurks in frightening fashion, yet you don’t have to carry it. Instead, the lake horseshoes around the back and both sides of the green. Thus, if you could hit a putter hard enough, you could run it right onto the long, narrow green. Push or pull your full shot by a whisker, however—or hit it too boldly—and it will find the proverbial watery grave.

Sure, it’s not as dramatic as a forced carry, but it’s absolutely inspired work by Weiskopf-Morrish, where the hack can make par or bogey via old-fashioned accuracy, but the Tour pro faces a true gut-check if he wants to get it close to a back pin.

18th hole, 438 yards, par 4
Length is no longer the factor it was when the pros first encountered it in 1987, but an extension to the lake on the left and an expansion to the bunkers on the right make this a challenging tee shot on a crucial hole.

Defending champion Mark Wilson says, “No matter where the pin is, however, the green is a smaller target than it appears, because any approach that lands on the left third of the green will fall away from the hole. It’s a great finishing hole where you can make a birdie or a bogey.”

Indeed, with the massive crowds lining the hillside to the right, a lake left, and handsome mountain vistas in sight, this is one of the more underappreciated closers on Tour.

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